Its one thing to think you know Americans, and one thing to have an actual one confirm your theories about them. I had coffee and small talk with one hailing from the Midwest today. K is a woman born and bred in Iowa, land of cornfields and wheat, home state of Hollywood god Brad Pitt. In such a multinational uni as mine, the standard opening lines usually go along the lines of where are you from, what are you studying, how long have you been here, what do you do back home et cetera.
I've given up the fight not to speak with something very close to an American accent so people ask if I've ever lived in the US. I've given it up because for one, unlike back home, speaking like a Yank isn't seen as pretentious. Two, its just easier because Tagalog (like French) is tense while English is much more relaxed and so aside from being able to speak faster, I don't trip over words pronouncing English words that don't match the Tagalog motions of my tongue, palate and mouth.
K, a woman in her early thirties, is a communications prof in the uni. She has been here for three years. Our conversation wandered from the basics of who, what, where to when, how and why. Why did she stay in Australia when she could've gone back home? She said she loved the uni and being able to meet with people from all across the globe. She said she knew that Americans had such a bad rep in campus. They are seen as 'ignorant' and 'loud.' Before coming here she had no idea how unpopular Americans were overseas. She expressed mild shock and disbelief. At the time the US had just invaded Iraq (almost) unilaterally. She, being a citizen who ostensibly elected the Bush government in office, was an obvious target of critique. K has since come to disassociate herself from the reputation of her country. If people didn't like where she came from, then she'll do her damnedest to get people to like her for who she was.
I told her my classmates were probably in the same state of shock and disbelief. When their country is criticized in class (which happens quite a lot), they seem a tad defensive. I told her, its because your government's policies affect the world. She said people back home are, to a degree, 'ignorant' of goings-on abroad. She called them 'simple' in that their concerns revolved around working hard, caring for family, going to church. Values and concerns rooted in the local and the immediate. Indeed, why should a corn farmer care when the US Treasury pressures the IMF to withhold rescue funds to a collapsing Argentine economy?
I told her, I too dissociate the American government from Americans. I like America. All my favorite TV shows are American. In some ways, having been a (neo)colony for so long, I feel somewhat American. I like the Americans I've met so far, hyphenated ones in particular. My closest friend is a Texan who has a Vietnamese mother and a Pakistani-Indian father. I like G who's Colombian-American. I like J who's Palauan-American. There are 'pure' (read white) Americans in class, but they seem to not want anything to do with me. Or maybe I don't want to have anything to do with them. I've met a few Canadians who are insulted when they are mistaken for Yanks. I tell them, you need to pepper your sentences with 'eh' more often.